FROM OUR PRINTED SEPT. 1, 2021 EDITION
by Dennis Galvin
Republican State Committeeman
There is a saying in politics that bad news is better than no news. If that is the case, then the MassGOP should be reaping the benefits of a significant increase in publicity due to the internal struggles embroiling its State Committee.
Chairman Lyons has weathered attack after attack. Most recently, several donors attempted to bribe the Committee, offering one million dollars to the party if they would remove him. So what is going on?
There is a very intense battle for power within the MassGOP. Ironically, it has little to do with issues but everything to do with authenticity. The conflict has pitted Governor Charlie Baker and his faction within the State Committee against Chairman Lyons and his supporters, who see themselves as reformers, attempting to craft a genuine Republican Party for this commonwealth, one that seeks to take the political battle into the Legislature.
So what are the reasons and origins behind this cleavage? History may provide some insight. The Massachusetts Republican Party was formed in 1854, a combination of two political interests, the abolitionists and the nativists. The former were led by Charles Sumner, formerly of the “free soil” party. The latter were the remnants of the so-called “American Party,” led by Nathan Prentice Banks. While the Sumner faction passionately advanced the cause of abolition, the latter group hung back focusing on anti-immigration. Their efforts were harshly anti-Catholic.
The union victory in 1865 catapulted the Republican Party into political supremacy within the Bay State, so much so that from 1856 to 1876 Republicans held virtually every constitutional and statutory office in the commonwealth. This period also ushered in unprecedented levels of immigration to support the nation’s burgeoning industrialization, much of which centered in Massachusetts. The demographic, technical and economic transformations associated with these changes inevitably exacerbated existing political tensions between immigrant Catholics and nativist Protestants.
The white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant male population of the state exercised almost total hegemony in Mass. through the Republican Party until the 1920s. However, the numbers were on the side of the immigrants; in 1928 when Irish Catholic Democrat Al Smith won Massachusetts in his bid for the presidency – ultimately losing to Herbert Hoover – the handwriting was clearly on the wall. In 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a strong appeal to the immigrants in Massachusetts, vanquishing Yankee austerity by ousting Hoover from the presidency. The era of largesse that is now associated with the Democratic Party began.
The old Massachusetts Republican Party was also destined to succumb, as did Hoover. An onslaught of ethnic, largely Catholic voters flocked to the Democratic banner. The old Yankee establishment desperately tried to maintain some portion of its once pervasive influence, but the power balance had shifted. Ironically, it was the issue of birth control that led to the Republican Party’s demise. In its attempt to stay relevant, Mass. Republicans became increasingly progressive. In 1948 they championed legislation that would make birth control available to all adult women. The Democratic opposition, led by none-other than Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, partnered with Cardinal Cushing, the head of the Boston Roman Catholic Archdiocese, who helped drive out the Catholic vote in opposition. The 1948 effort to legalize birth control was crushed and the state Democratic Party took over control of the state Legislature and has yet to relinquish it.
In the years since their initial ascendancy, Mass. Democrats have found themselves under significant cultural and economic pressure, pushing them toward a more progressive stance. The evaporation of manufacturing jobs in the post World War II period eroded their working-class base. The Vietnam War and the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago gave them a new lease on life. The party became increasingly progressive. The fall of Republican President Richard Nixon due to Watergate played to their direct advantage; their numbers swelled in the 1972 state elections.
Many conservative-minded Democrats found themselves without a political home. Some began to shift their affiliation to the Republican Party. This movement was given a strong impetus by the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, who presented a new and more all-encompassing vision of conservatism than was offered by Republicans in the past. The first major confrontation of new Republicans with the old in Mass. came in 1982 when Ray Shamie of conservative, ethnic, immigrant background defeated establishment candidate Elliot Richardson to win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Shamie ultimately lost his Senate bid to Democrat John Forbes Kerry, but his political venture signified a cosmic shift in the dynamics of the MassGOP.
Shamie ultimately became the chair of the party and made a herculean effort to push it into a conservative direction. This effort was blocked in 1992. A former Republican legislative leader, Steven Pierce, made a bid for governor, running on a pro-life, pro-business platform with the full backing of the party. The Democratic progressive wing, utilizing the open primary process in Massachusetts, moved to block Pierce’s bid by supporting his Republican opponent, William Weld. Weld failed to win the party’s nomination at its convention, but because of the low Republican numbers in the state and the open primary system, Democrat progressives were able to flood the Republican primary and block Pierce’s conservative insurgency. Nevertheless, Republican gains in the House and Senate were substantial.
Weld went on to defeat Democrat John Silber, who was the last conservative Democrat to run for a major office in the state. Rather than using his new political clout to shape change, Weld entered into a symbiotic political relationship with the Democratic leadership in the state Legislature, which has extended to our current time. The relationship was allegedly based on a quid pro quo agreement between Weld and then Senate President William Bulger. Its contours were: If the Republican governor gave the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate the patronage appointments they wanted, then the Democrats would be kind to developers, bankers and corporations. The Republican governor in essence became the chief lobbyist for big business interests in Massachusetts, rather than an opposition party builder.
Additionally, the Republicans had to pledge to disrupt any attempts to challenge the Democratic dominance on Beacon Hill. This arrangement has held firm through Governors Cellucci, Swift, Romney and now Baker. They’ve kept their part of the bargain, resulting in the near extinction of Republican legislators.
The fuss and bother that we are witnessing in the Republican Party today comes from the fact that the current chairman, Jim Lyons, has disrupted this quid pro quo. He won’t go along with it.
Through the years that it was binding, the Democratic Party became more corrupt and more progressive every session.
The state’s viability is now at risk. Lyons wants to reverse this and take back the Legislature. This threatens to end what was once a beautiful partnership for some people.
It is no surprise that a recent letter sent by sixteen developers, financiers and corporate heads offered a one-million dollar bribe for Lyons’ head.
The party, as constituted under its Republican governors since Weld, has been nothing more than a puppet show, a fake organization that ran through the motions of being the political opposition so that special interests could benefit. Lyons wants to change that and as far I am concerned, his continued leadership is worth more than one million dollars. ♦